Open Windows was the first film I saw during SXSW 2014. I’ve never covered the festival before, so I had no idea what kind of features I’d end up exposing myself to. Going in I was awkward, tense, but mostly curious. As the film went on to elaborate and explore on the very nature of exposure itself, I found myself more entranced with the premise of Open Windows more so than its execution.
But how much credit should a film get for my introspection? Tons actually. While Open Windows fumbles in a few areas, it’s finely creepy, strangely arousing, but most importantly, it’s compelling.
[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of South by Southwest 2014. It is being reposted to coincide with the film’s wide release.]
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Release Date: November 7, 2014
Open Windows stars Elijah Wood as Nick (which is one of the many reasons I found myself identifying with him), a lonely man who runs a fan website for actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). Nick won a contest to eat dinner with Goddard, but that contest was promptly canceled. As Nick finds himself in a hotel room playing with his laptop, Chord (Neil Maskell) hacks into his computer and states that Jill Goddard is a diva who selfishly always gets what he wants. As Chord walks Nick through various levels of hacking into Jill’s life, Nick realizes there may be a more sinister plan at work.
First of all, Open Windows’ main draw is its presentation. Presented entirely through electronic devices (mainly Nick’s laptop, but later expands to camera phones, dashboard cameras and the like), Windows blends multiple threads together. The POV creates a far more intimate and interesting outing and makes it easier to find yourself in Nick’s shoes. Honestly, this whole presentation would’ve fallen flat if not anchored by Elijah Wood. He’s charming and charismatic enough that even the most “Hollywood” aspects of the film’s technology were able to swallow. If I had one thing to say about the presentation, however, is sometimes not even Wood is enough to keep the logic afloat.
Windows asks for quite a bit of bent logic from the viewer as hacking takes on a more fantastical role as the film progresses. Rather than stay rooted, and believable on Nick’s laptop, eventually (in order to keep the film from going visually flat) the changes in scenery notably jolt you out of perspective and force you to question how long the battery on Nick’s laptop could truly last. The unfortunate thing is, however, is that you’ll find yourself wanting the film to go back to the intimate beginning. As the mystery of the film slowly reveals itself and becomes cartoonish, it loses sight of that initial spark. There’s a very interesting idea at play here that’s unfortunately forgotten as the film tries to become a satire of other things.
You see, when the film opens, you get a lonely man sitting in front of his computer as he idolizes a famous someone he will never meet. This is where I became involved with the film. I’ve been there, and I know exactly what the awkward feeling of longing does to you. As Jill becomes more of a fleshed out character, the film neatly satirizes the very nature and attitude of the Internet. Grey is perfectly cast as the famed actress as I’m sure Grey knows a thing or two about idolization. There’s a question of control at play during Nick and Jill’s initial interactions that unfortunately aren’t explored as Windows sees fit to throw those interesting ideals out the window and become a jumbled mess before concluding.
No matter how much you enjoy Open Windows, there’s no way you’re going to make it through the muddy finale without feeling a tad bit confused. Although there are slight hints of a greater mystery throughout the film, there aren’t enough to save it from the complete derailment within its final ten minutes. Characters are introduced, thrown into weird perspectives, and odd visual choices don’t necessarily help matters. But oddly enough, they don’t hurt matters either.
While the conclusion is awfully jolting and makes little sense, the intentionally skewed point of view creates a great sense of suspense as you’ll find yourself trying harder just to try and *see* who’s who. It’s neat little payoff of the original idea. Once again, it all relates back to the idea of control. When given control what would you do? Would you take advantage of another? But when you find yourself in the opposite position, and that control is taken away, what would you do then? I found myself thinking about all of things as the film went on, but unfortunately realized that the general nature of the questions were completely unrelated to the film at hand.
Open Windows is a great, stripped down narrative in the beginning, but sadly devolves into mush as it rolls on. It’s got an interesting idea at play, but never quite hits its mark.